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In-House Innovation v Strategic Alliances: Lessons from SaaStr Annual

In-House Innovation v Strategic Alliances: Lessons from SaaStr Annual

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Michael Sindicich

8 Sep 2023
3 minute read
SaaStr Annual 2023 in San Francisco was a master class in cloud technology and Software as a Service (SaaS).

SaaStr Annual 2023 in San Francisco was a master class in cloud technology and Software as a Service (SaaS). For three days, industry leaders from start-ups, tech giants, and everything in between converged to share their insights and strategies for navigating today’s disruptive business landscape.

I was honored to present alongside Veronica Fernandez, the North America Head of Commercial Solutions at our partner, Visa, on how to build a start-up within a start-up. I walked away from SaaStr invigorated, inspired, and incredibly grateful for the experiences shared. The road to innovation is seldom linear, but with the right partners and insights, it’s a journey worth taking. On that note, I’d like to share some insights from the event.

The Power of Partnerships

A recurring theme throughout the event was the power of partnerships. In a dynamic start-up environment, discerning when to develop in-house and when to forge strategic alliances can be the linchpin of success. For Navan, our collaboration with Visa has been transformative. It’s reshaped our approach to enhancing the travel and expense management journey for businesses globally.

Veronica highlighted the intricacies of these decisions and emphasized the need to navigate the balance between customization and control, in order to ensure alignment with the broader company vision. The ultimate goal for both our companies is to mitigate friction points for users.

Navan Expense GM Michael Sindicich and Veronica Fernandez, the North America Head of Commercial Solutions at Visa, on stage at SaaStr.

A Deep Dive Into the Customer Journey

Our strategy at Navan revolves around profoundly understanding our customers. By deconstructing the voyage of a business traveler from departure to expense reporting, we discovered that the journey typically culminated in the tedious task of managing expenses. This was a pain point we knew we could address head-on.

From this insight, we embarked on a mission to diversify our offerings, by recognizing gaps in the buyer’s journey and filling them efficiently. The result is Navan Expense — an innovation built on existing resources that streamlined the end-to-end experience for travelers.

Navan Expense was born from Navan's relentless inquiry into customer pain points.

In-House vs. Partner: A Tale of Two Strategies

At Navan, our “build and collaborate” approach perfectly encapsulates our journey. While we’ve built solutions in-house, our collaboration with Visa has been central to our growth. Together, we’ve redefined industry standards and raised the bar for travel and expense management solutions.

Veronica shared Visa’s perspective, emphasizing the role of fintech partners in driving innovation and expanding their network’s reach. As she said, they're “creating a network of networks.” And Navan is proud to be a part of this transformation.

Navan team members share a photo opp at SaaStr.

Key Takeaways from SaaStr

For those who couldn’t attend, here are a few key lessons:

  • Diversify your offerings by identifying gaps in the buyer’s journey.
  • Understand when to build in-house and when to collaborate.
  • If you’re going to build, you must build as if your company depends on it.
  • Collaborate with strategic partners to elevate your solutions and reach.

A note of gratitude to SaaStr for providing the platform and to Veronica and the Visa team for a fruitful collaboration. Here’s to further breakthroughs and innovations in the years to come!

The Navan team was out in force at SaaStr 2023.
SaaStr is one of the events that the Navan team looks forward to every year.
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